Western Fall River Expressway (MA 79)

SERVING THE TAUNTON RIVER WATERFRONT: In 1947, the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MassDPW) announced plans for a "Relocated Route 138" that was to handle traffic along the Taunton River waterfront. The freeway, which was to connect the Fall River Expressway (MA 24) with the "Relocated US 6" (now I-195), was part of a comprehensive statewide expressway plan. Called the "Fall River Grade Crossing Elimination" in early plans, the expressway as also conceived as a cornerstone of redevelopment efforts in downtown Fall River.

The first section of expressway, a short connector from MA 24 south to Main Street, opened to traffic in 1958. A second section opened in late 1965 with the completion of the nearby Charles Braga Bridge (I-195). This elevated double-deck section, which stretches from the southern terminus with I-195 in downtown Fall River north to the ramps for Davol Street (MA 138), was constructed over a railroad right-of-way. The "missing link" of MA 79 from Davol Street north to Main Street was completed in 1974.

CURRENT AND FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS: According to the Massachusetts Highway Department (MHD), the Western Fall River Expressway carries approximately 20,000 vehicles per day. The MHD has scheduled the following improvements for the connector:

  • In late 2003, the MHD will begin an $11 million project to rehabilitate the upper (northbound) and lower (southbound) decks on the elevated section of MA 79 near downtown New Bedford. The work will include rehabilitation of ramps to and from I-195.

  • The MHD is currently grading ramps that will lead from MA 79 to the new Brightman Street Bridge (US 6). The interchange ramps will open in 2006 when the new span is completed.

AN END TO THE EXPRESSWAY? During 2001, officials from Fall River began to consider demolishing the existing Western Fall River Expressway, and sending MA 79 traffic onto nearby Davol Street. The street, which parallels the expressway, would then be converted into a four-lane "urban boulevard."

Proponents, which include the MHD and the Fall River Office of Economic Development, state that the project would free up to ten additional acres for a $137 million waterfront redevelopment, and make the Taunton River waterfront more attractive and "user-friendly." The Cecil Group, a Boston-based consulting group hired by Fall River officials, concluded that the existing eight total traffic lanes on Route 79 and Davol Street, running parallel to the waterfront, are not necessary.

In February 2003, Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr. announced that the city had awarded a $1.0 million contract to design firm VHB, which will study ways to replace the MA 79 elevated roadway with an expanded Davol Street. Officials estimate that the $20 million MA 79 relocation project would be completed by the end of this decade.

This 2002 photo shows the northbound Western Fall River Expressway (MA 79) at the exit for the Brightman Street Bridge (US 6 and MA 138) in Fall River. At this point, both directions of MA 79 are on the same grade level. Ramps for the new US 6 replacement bridge are being constructed just north of this point. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

KEEP THE EXPRESSWAY: The Western Fall River Expressway should be maintained as an access route between the Charles Braga Bridge (I-195), the new Brightman Street Bridge (US 6 and MA 138) and the Fall River Expressway (MA 24). It would be an expensive gamble to tear down the expressway in the latest urban experimentation trend, only to find that a new controlled-access route is needed two decades hence.

SOURCES: Master Highway Plan for the Boston Metropolitan Area, Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1948); "The Massachusetts Highway Story (1949-1969)," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1969); "Southeastern Massachusetts Comprehensive Transportation Plan," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1969); "House Will Fund Study of Route 79 Revamp Plan" by Michael W. Freeman, The Herald News (7/01/2001); "Brightman Street Bridge Project Update" by Daniel Barbarisi, The Providence Journal (4/03/2002); "City To Begin Redesign of Route 79" by Daniel Barbarisi, The Providence Journal (2/18/2003); City of Fall River; Massachusetts Highway Department; Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District; Dan Moraseski; Alexander Svirsky.

  • MA 79 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.



  • Construction and Accident Delays
  • Live Traffic Cams


  • MA 79 exit list by Jay Hogan.


  • Western Fall River Expressway (MA 79)

Back to The Roads of Metro Boston home page.

Site contents © by Eastern Roads. This is not an official site run by a government agency. Recommendations provided on this site are strictly those of the author and contributors, not of any government or corporate entity.